Did Jonah die in the fish’s belly?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Friday, August 21, 2009 at 10:26am
A preacher friend sent me this request: ” In graduate studies this past week, the professor asserted that Jonah had actually died in the belly of the big fish and was three days and three nights in Sheol per his prayer he prayed [Jonah 2:2]. … When Jesus says in Matthew that he will be three days in the earth just as Jonah was three days in the belly of the big fish, there is no assertion to the fact by Jesus that Jonah had died. Do you also believe that Jonah had actually died and went to Sheol during his time in the belly of the big fish and then came back to life when vomited back onto dry land?
Here is my answer: lNo, there is no reason to believe that he died in the fish’s belly. Sheol refers basically to the lowest places on land and in the sea (Ps. 139:8; Amos 9:2), the pit or abyss (Prov. 1:12; Isa. 14:15). One main meaning is the grave, or the place to which the dead go in general. (See my book, The Faith Once for All, 517-21.) However, one does not have to already BE dead to enter this pit or grave. One can enter Sheol alive (Numbers 16:30, 33) and die as a result. So, for Jonah, there are two possibilities. When he says he is praying from Sheol, either (1) he is speaking figuratively only (this is a poetic prayer), and Sheol is just another way of speaking of the depths of the sea (see many other references to this in the prayer; e.g., “the roots of the mountains, 2:6); or (2) he is speaking literally and assumes that he will ultimately die here and that the fish’s belly WILL be his sheol, or grave (see Num. 16:33 again), unless the Lord delivers him. But there is no need to assume actual death.